Independent.ie - 18th Sep 2021 - Henrietta McKervey
You still can’t hope for better company than Maeve Binchy
One of Ireland’s most successful and popular writers, Maeve Binchy sold more than 40 million copies in 37 languages. Since her death in 2012, her global popularity has continued unabated — in 2019, all her novels were published in Korean for the first time. Yet it’s not solely her reach that continues to expand; her influence and legacy are also flourishing.
This month alone, RTÉ Drama on One is broadcasting a season of her classic plays and an extended edit of her legendary 2002 interview with Myles Dungan. The presenter later described their conversation as “the easiest five bob I ever earned”.
Every October, the annual Echoes Festival in Dalkey celebrates her and Irish writers. On social media the hashtag #bemoremaeve appears regularly, often in conjunction with her famous advice that opens: “Learn to type. Learn to drive. Have fun,” and concludes, “Don’t wait for permission to do anything. Make your own life.”
A new generation of readers has found her via the author and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue’s Sentimental Garbage podcast. She is celebrated in the Maeve Binchy garden at Dalkey Library, in the Museum of Literature Ireland and by the annual UCD Maeve Binchy Travel Award, which funds a travel opportunity for an arts and humanities student.
At Echoes in 2017, Margaret Kelleher, UCD professor of Anglo-Irish literature and drama, said that close study of Binchy’s writing suggests she will be regarded as a “key witness and chronicler of Irish life in the last decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the next”. The writer Frank McGuinness has said that her legacy “is the knowledge that we can do anything, go anywhere and if you choose it, you can be successful as you care to be. She opened gates. She opened doors.”
How she got her start has been well-documented: in 1963 grateful parents of her pupils at the Zion school in Rathgar gave her a trip to Israel. She went on to spend three summers there, and her father was so taken with her letters home he submitted them to this newspaper. She went on to have huge success as a reporter. In her obituary, the journalist Conor O’Clery said her “highly descriptive take on Irish life transformed the nature of colour writing in newspapers”.
Aside from as a reader, my connection with her began in 2014, when I won the inaugural UCD Maeve Binchy Travel Award. In the interview, I described my proposal to explore the sea areas of the Shipping Forecast with what I hoped was an appropriately Maeve-ish attitude, explaining that I wanted to talk to people as I travelled; to eavesdrop and chat and hear the human-sized stories I would never encounter otherwise.
As the popularity of Echoes shows, Maeve’s fans still love to read and discuss her, and the relevance of her reflection of Irish social attitudes and mores is increasingly being lauded.
But that’s only part of the story. When I was getting ready for my trip around the sea areas, I packed Maeve’s Times so I’d always have something joyful and interesting to read while travelling alone. And for me that is at the heart of Maeve Binchy’s legacy: as always, she remains extraordinarily good company.
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Independent.ie - 30th Sep 2019 - Chris Binchy
'Write quickly, don't be a poser, and have fun when it's time to have fun'
- Maeve Binchy's nephew Chris on her advice to aspiring writers
Maeve Binchy was a warm-hearted, helpful font of wisdom for aspiring young writers, recalls her nephew Chris Binchy.
When I started writing this article, it took me a while to find a way in. I circled like a cat on a couch looking for the ideal place to settle, hovering and lowering and then deciding that this might not in fact be the right approach. Days went by.
Maeve would not have done this. She would have said to think about what you want to say and then say it clearly, and not to waste time finding more elaborate ways of doing it. Some years ago we met up and she asked how my work was going. "Slow," I said. "It's taking me a long time to get going."
"I've never found working slowly to be a good idea," she said. "Working quickly is better."
The first job I ever had was serving drinks with my sister at parties in Maeve and Gordon's house in the 1980s. Maeve had worked in London and Dublin as a journalist and her first novel Light a Penny Candle had just been published. The parties started at lunchtime and lasted through the afternoon. There were a lot of people there and we had to move. Our instructions were to keep pouring and to enjoy ourselves, which is still good advice for anybody hosting a party.
In 1995 I was a night manager at a hotel in Dublin. It was full of actors and politicians and people doing all sorts of business. To work on the desk of a hotel overnight you needed to have an easy, welcoming style, but with notes of authority and menace. You had to make rapid judgments about people when they walked in, to see what they wanted, whether they were supposed to be there, if they were honest or dodgy. If trouble started, you needed to take control.
But I was always tired and I couldn't concentrate. After a few months, the only thing I was interested in was sleep. I fantasised about dark rooms, big empty beds, clean sheets. I wanted to be a guest. I should just have left but I didn't know how. When I was going to work, I would look at the horizon above the hotel, hoping to see flames lighting the sky. If the place was on fire I could go home to bed. Instead, I caught flu and went to the doctor who gave me a sick note. During my time off, I entered a writing competition. I wrote in my own voice, kept it simple, focused on what was on my mind at the time - the general public at night and how I thought they should behave. It was a rant but it was heartfelt.
I came second in the competition and handed in my notice the next day. "I am going to be a writer," I told the general manager, who kindly didn't say much in response. "I am going to be a writer," I told everyone I met and I liked the sound of it. At all stages, Maeve was encouraging and enthusiastic. Her advice was that if you're not producing 10 pages a week, you're not really doing it. I tried to keep up that pace.
At Christmas, she gave me the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. Before the internet, this was a way to find the address of a suitable publisher or agent. You would follow their very specific instructions (font size, word count, NO fantasy!) and send sample pages of your work off in the post, enclosing a stamped self-addressed envelope if you wanted to hear back from them. When eventually I produced something, I did this. As long as you had something out in the world, the rejections weren't too bad. I went back to work in restaurants, writing sporadically, did a college course and eventually, eight years after handing in my notice at the hotel, my first book was published.
When it was coming out, Maeve sent me a letter. Publishing has changed a lot in the 16 years since then, but her words are still relevant and sensible and funny.
"Booksellers are your friends and everybody working in a bookshop is important. Treat everybody you meet with kindness and respect because that's the right way to behave, but also because, as in any business, the person working on the shop floor or answering the phone today may end up running things in 10 years and they will remember you.
"Don't be a poser. Do not twiddle your fingers in your hair and talk about how you don't really know what your book is about, or if it's any good or how you came to write it.
"A lot of people are involved in the publication of any book, so while you shouldn't take yourself too seriously, you should always take the work seriously. Tolerate the bores, turn up when you're supposed to, don't be late, meet your deadlines. Have fun when it's time to have fun."
She was somebody who had a lot of fun. She worked long, regular hours every day in Dalkey, writing novels and articles and letters and emails, doing all the things that needed to be done and more. Gordon worked at a desk in the same room. Sometimes I would visit them at the end of the day. They usually would already be laughing, sitting together at a table, discussing what they'd been doing. They would ask me if I wanted something to drink and I often did, and then a conversation would get going. It seemed like the perfect way to work and to live.
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Irish Times Article - 24th Sep 2019 - Henrietta M McKervey
A festival that Echoes Maeve Binchy’s passions and concerns
The beloved author believed shared experiences fostered communities – the theme of next month’s Dalkey festival.
“Success is not like a cake that needs to be divided,” Maeve Binchy told an interviewer who asked about her sense of pride in other Irish writers’ achievements. “It’s more like a heap of stones – a cairn. If someone is successful, they add a stone to the cairn. It gets very high and can be seen from all over the world.”
That 2007 comment is one I’ve thought about often since last January, when Echoes director Margaret Dunne and I first discussed possible themes for this year’s festival.
I hadn’t been involved in programming before, though I’ve spoken at festivals since my first book What Becomes Of Us was published. My first outing as a speaker was at the Belfast Book Festival in 2015, and as I heard myself try to answer Marie Louise Muir’s questions with something approaching coherence, I realised that until then I hadn’t had to so clearly articulate the reasons why I wrote What Becomes Of Us. (And, in a note-to-self moment, I also realised that undergoing such a carefully-constructed interrogation before starting to write would be really helpful.)
Often, because of the time lag between writing and publication, an author who is discussing a particular book at an event has already moved onto something completely different, absorbed in an idea as yet unspoken to the world: an entirely different set of characters may have taken up residence, commanding the inner stage yet swearing their creator to silence.
A book finds a different home in the unique imagination of each and every reader, yet is a fixed thing for its author; completed and concluded. Having to discuss it in public gives authors a chance to revisit its intentions and ideas. There is something curious and exciting about the conversations and connections that occur at literary festivals that adds to Maeve Binchy’s “heap of stones”: each interaction contributes, and each contribution is different.
I was in the audience at the inaugural Echoes festival in 2017, and participated the following year, so when Margaret Dunne – director of Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre, the popular living history tour in the medieval castle in the heart of Dalkey – suggested I get involved in programming this year, the territory was familiar.
As the only literary festival with Maeve Binchy at its heart, Echoes (October 4th-6th) attracts an ever-growing audience – in addition to the enthusiastic local crowd, visitors come from the US, Sweden and the UK. Each year, Echoes takes a contemporary theme pertinent to Binchy’s work and uses it as the springboard for an exploration of an aspect of contemporary writing and experience: in 2017, how Binchy’s writing was a social chronicle of late 20th-century Ireland, a recorder of lived experience; and last year Echoes looked at feminism and gender stereotyping in contemporary fiction, with the well-known description of her as “a quiet feminist” as its jumping-off point.
Binchy believed that shared experiences created and fostered communities, and from the adventures of Irish writers abroad to our collective identity as an island nation, and from real life as reflected in fiction to today’s activism, this year Echoes considers and celebrates community in contemporary writing in Ireland.
A full day of discussion, readings and interviews on Saturday, October 5th is bookended by At Home in The World, Olivia O’Leary’s personal reflection on Maeve’s life, journalism and fiction at 9.30am, and Maeve Binchy at Home in Ireland with Róisín Ingle at 4.45pm. Cathy Kelly, Chris Binchy and Jo Spain, in conversation with Niall MacMonagle, discuss whether contemporary Irish writing reflects the diverse reality of life in Ireland today; Carlo Gébler, Senator Lynn Ruane, Ibrahim Halawa and Martin Doyle explore how writing is giving a voice to previously unheard or little-heard communities, and how fiction, nonfiction and memoir are increasingly being used for advocacy and to drive social and political change; Hazel Gaynor, Andrea Carter and travel writer Fionn Davenport debate whether living on a small island affects one’s sense of community; and Caroline Erskine talks to Madeleine Keane, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Irish-American Mary Pat Kelly (an author who is less well known in Ireland than in US, where her career includes stints as a screenwriter at Columbia and Paramount Pictures, writer at Saturday Night Live, novels, filmmaking and more) about the experiences of Irish writers abroad. Deirdre O’Kane and Clelia Murphy will be reading from Binchy’s nonfiction.
A performance of Aches & Pains, Shay Linehan’s adaptation of Binchy’s book on illness and recovery that is part self-help guide and part survival manual, opens the festival on Friday, October 4th at 7.30pm. Directed by Margaret Dunne and starring Michael Heavey and Margaret Toomey, this performance is in honour of Shay Linehan – who also adapted her novels Light a Penny Candle and Minding Frankie – who died in June. It comes with a fascinating post-show bonus: director and writer Conall Morrison in conversation with RTÉ’s Evelyn O’Rourke about the challenges of adapting other writers’ work for the stage. His recent productions include La Traviata for the English National Opera and The Taming of The Shrew for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he has just opened his production The Travels of Jonathan Swift, adapted from Swift’s work, for the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company in Sligo.
On Sunday at 11am, the Maeve Binchy and Irish Writers Guided Walk starts in the Writers’ Gallery at Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre and takes in the work of James Joyce, GB Shaw, Hugh Leonard, Jennifer Johnston and Flann O’Brien among others on its way to the Maeve Binchy Memorial Garden in Dalkey Library.
Assembling the panels with the most appropriate and engaging speakers was a fascinating task. And with each one I thought of Maeve Binchy’s comment about the meaning of success for Ireland’s writers… and how in October, each person will be bringing another stone to the cairn.
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Irish Times Article - 28th May 2019 - Henrietta M McKervey
Echoes: ‘a literary event with Maeve Binchy at its heart’
Maeve Binchy and her husband Gordon Snell always made a big thing of birthdays. They had a tradition of writing each other jokey verse to celebrate. Maeve, who died in July 2012, would have turned 80 today. She remains one of Ireland’s most popular writers: her novels have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and counting. Translated into 37 languages – the most recent being Korean – her influence is so prevalent that it’s hard sometimes to think of her as no longer writing and publishing.
In 2017, her long-time agent and friend Christine Green said: “I found myself thinking that Maeve is gone but we don’t have to believe it. We have the sound of her voice, we have her writing. And that’s just wonderful.”
Green was speaking at the inaugural Echoes literary weekend in October 2017. Now in its third year, and attracting an international audience, Echoes is programmed and hosted by Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in collaboration with Gordon Snell.
Self-described as a “literary event with Maeve Binchy at its heart”, Echoes features the best of Irish writing and contemporary writers. Writers who have taken part include Catherine Dunne, Diarmaid Ferriter, Patricia Scanlan, Joseph O’Connor, Martina Devlin, Declan Hughes, and Frank McGuinness. It has also featured staged readings of her plays, including Shay Linehan’s adaptation of her Aches & Pains, and excerpts from her journalism.
In 2017, Echoes explored Binchy’s position as a social chronicler, and how our understanding of that position is evolving. As Gordon Snell has often said, Binchy was unafraid to tackle quite fierce topics and modern issues. The keynote speaker, Prof Margaret Kelleher, noted that a closer study of Binchy’s writing suggests that she will be regarded as “as a key witness and chronicler of Irish life in the last decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the next”.
By telling us stories about ourselves, Binchy recorded a different kind of history. Diarmaid Ferriter commented that in Ireland we had “official archives that told us what happened, they didn’t necessarily tell us what it felt like. Maeve’s work was very powerful in communicating what it felt like.”
In 2018, the focus of Echoes was on questions of feminism and gender stereotyping in fiction, and the famous description of Binchy as “a quiet feminist”: a description she always said she loved because it was the first time she had ever been called “quiet”.
From people commuting together in Lilac Bus, or the raggle-taggle team that comes together to raise a child and show us that everyone’s life is improved when individuals, communities and governments collaborate to care for those in trouble in Minding Frankie, or in any of a myriad other settings, Binchy believed that shared experiences created and fostered communities. Her 2008 novel Heart and Soul explored her continuing fascination with travel and migration by looking at one of the new communities in Ireland through the life of a recently-arrived Polish woman, Ania.
In an interview with the Irish Times on the occasion of her winning the Irish PEN Award in 2007 she said: “There’s the sense that they are still at the window looking in at us, not yet living the life. There’s a loneliness in that I want to look at.”
This year, Echoes takes up this theme and celebrates community in contemporary writing in Ireland. Featuring an exciting and diverse line-up of writers, festival topics include our collective identity as an island nation, how real life is reflected in modern fiction, and the adventures of Irish writers abroad.
Speaking at Echoes last October, writer Frank McGuinness said, “the legacy that Maeve Binchy has bestowed on Irish writers is the knowledge that we can do anything, go anywhere and if you choose it, you can be successful as you care to be. She opened gates. She opened doors.”
Happy birthday, Maeve. And thank you.
Echoes runs from October 4th-6th. Events on Saturday, October 5th feature: Chris Binchy, Andrea Carter, Fionn Davenport, Hazel Gaynor, Carlo Gebler, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Ibrahim Halawa, Róisín Ingle, Madeleine Keane, Cathy Kelly, Mary Pat Kelly, Olivia O’Leary, Lynn Ruane, Gordon Snell, Jo Spain among others. Other events to be announced. Details and booking information on echoes.ie.
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PRESS RELEASE 28th May 2019
Echoes 2019 Celebrating Community in Contemporary Writing in Ireland
4-6 October, Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre
Echoes 2019 Will Celebrate Community in Contemporary Writing in Ireland!
Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre is delighted to announce that ECHOES will return from the 4th – 6th October 2019. ECHOES proudly celebrates the life and work of Maeve Binchy and Irish writers, and will feature thought provoking talks, walks, debates, interviews and theatrical events.
The announcement of the third edition of ECHOES has been made to coincide with what would have been Maeve Binchy’s eightieth birthday (28th May 2019).
Speaking about ECHOES 2019, Margaret Dunne, Manager of Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre said “Maeve Binchy believed that shared experiences created and fostered communities. ECHOES 2019 explores the concept of community in contemporary writing in Ireland and will feature an exciting and diverse line-up of writers. Festival topics will include our collective identity as an island nation, how real life is reflected in modern fiction, and the adventures of Irish writers abroad.”
Some of the writers confirmed for ECHOES 2019 include: Gordon Snell, Chris Binchy, Andrea Carter, Fionn Davenport, Hazel Gaynor, Carlo Gebler, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Ibrahim Halawa, Róisín Ingle, Madeleine Keane, Cathy Kelly, Mary Pat Kelly, Olivia O’Leary, Lynn Ruane and Jo Spain*.
A Maeve Binchy & Irish Writers Guided Walk will also take place on Sunday October 6th at 11am from Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre.
There will also be more Friday and Sunday events announced in the coming months.
Visit www.echoes.ie for more information
Saturday 5th 9.30am-12.45pm and 2pm-5pm, Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre
Full day ticket Early Bird (before September 15th) €45
Full day (from September 16th) €55
Half day (morning or afternoon) €30
Maeve Binchy & Irish Writers Guided Walk €12.95
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